Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 84: Pitchpoling

By Herman Melville

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Chapter 84: Pitchpoling

  • Ishmael explains that some whalemen like to grease the bottom of their boats, because they think it makes them move faster on the water; he decides that this might not be true, but it doesn’t hurt.
  • After the encounter with the Jungfrau, Queequeg oils the bottom of his boat, seeming to expect something.
  • Around noon, the Pequod sights whales and lowers boats in pursuit. Tashtego gets one harpoon into the whale, but it keeps rushing away from them, and the harpoon is gradually slipping out. They can’t use the rope to pull the boat up to the whale, because that would pull the harpoon out completely and they’d lose it.
  • Luckily, the whalemen have a maneuver especially for this problem—pitchpoling, in which the harpooneer throws an extra-long, extra-thin spear made of lightweight pine.
  • Stubb, because he’s so calm and collected, is chosen to do the pitchpoling.
  • He gathers up the rope attached to the spear in one hand; then he holds the spear with one hand pointed at the whale, and presses the end of it into the palm of his other hand.
  • In one motion he throws and strikes the whale, drawing blood. He pulls the spear back and repeats this over and over, and the whale dies.

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